Sunday, August 1, 2010

Growing Your Family: Part II - Mama Guilt (The Early Days)

See Part I here: Growing Your Family: Part 1

Shakespeare's take on female fury: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

To that I say, "Phfffffftttt! Whatevah, Willie."

To hell with fury - there ain't nothing in the world quite like Mama Guilt. It's an overwhelming, clawing heartache like no other and frankly, I'll take a good ol' scorning over a minute's lie-in-bed-thinking-about-the-ways-I-damaged-my-child-today session. In fact, I'll see your scorning and raise you a public humiliation AND a Facebook de-friending, if only you could take this guilt, just for five minutes.


No? You've got too much of your own, thank you very much? In fact, as the Interloper snuggles in for yet another nursing session and your Firstborn has stomped off to locate the gardening shears, your guilt is washing over you in waves? You feel torn asunder? You cannot breathe for the weight of it?

Ah, yes. Welcome to the REAL guilt. All that stuff you suffered whilst mothering one child was just practice for this:

1. I Don't Think I Can DO This:

I can admit this now and laugh about it, but while I was pregnant with the Interloper I felt consumed by the guilt of knowing that I wouldn't love him as much as I loved his brother. Oh sure, everyone told me that I'd be fine and of course I'd love another baby, but in my deepest heart, I was adamantly unconvinced and it was awful. How could I possibly love another human being the way I did my only child?

In the end, I made a silent, fervent promise to myself: I would go ahead and love my Firstborn more but I would never, EVER tell another living soul and would carry my terrible, horrendously shameful secret to my grave.

Days after this terrible promise, the Interloper was born and as the nurse placed him in my arms, I realized that I'd been terribly, wonderfully wrong. I loved him instantly, wholly, without reserve. "Hello, sweet angel. I've been waiting to love you for my whole life."

Sadly, my elation at losing the guilt of not loving him enough was swiftly replaced by the equally heart aching shame of even thinking that I wouldn't....sigh....minutes old and he'd already broken my heart.

This, I have come to realize, will continue until I draw my last breath of this life: In loving these little people, we are vulnerable in ways we'd never imagined. And if we're not, they'll find a way to make it so.

 2. Your Darling Firstborn Has Been Possessed by the Devil.

Looking back, I now see where my Firstborn began his slide toward Satan.

When he and Daddy arrived at the hospital to meet his new baby brother and to take us home, he wouldn't even hug me, barely spared me a glance. All he wanted to do was hold Daddy's hand and cover Daddy's neck with kisses. It was almost like he'd thought to himself, "Hmm...what's the quickest way to punish Mummy for growing me a brother? Oh, yes: Love. Daddy. Best."

The days that followed were tiring and weirdly calm as we began to adjust to a new family member, but I knew. Knew that my Firstborn was feeling pushed aside and pushed out. I knew by the way he leaned over the nursing Interloper and instead of laying a gentle kiss upon his brow like I'd been hoping, he head butted him RIGHT ON THE SOFT SPOT so hard, the Interloper popped off my breast and wailed without sound. Yeah. That cry.

I could tell that his frustration was rising when he began throwing temper tantrums over wearing socks with his shoes and wailing like a banshee at 3 a.m. for no good reason at all. (Naturally, this was his way of getting my clear and furiously undivided attention, and I ought to have ignored him but the guilt and the hormones got the better of me and I ended up sitting upright all night long with a boy at one breast and a boy curled next to the other, weeping. But I digress...)

I knew by the way he dropped his little chin to his chest when I gently explained that I couldn't take him to the park right now, Sunshine, Mummy's nursing the baby.

Sorry, Sweetheart, Mummy can't play soccer with you right now, I'm nursing the baby.

Oh, Magoo, I-Love-You, I WANT to bake our special "Mummy & Matthew" cake like we did last week, but right now, I'm nursing the baby...

In just a minute Matthew...
In a little while Matthew,
When I'm done nursing the baby, Matthew,
When I'm done changing the baby, Matthew,
Not right now Matthew,
Don't wake the baby, Matthew,
There, you've gone and woke the baby, Matthew!!

I literally ached watching my own father step in and perform every, single one of my duties: he dressed, fed, changed, played with, bathed, scolded, cuddled, read to, chided, and tucked my beloved firstborn child in every night for a week straight.

You know what I did for a week straight? Nursed the Interloper and let the guilt - now doubled because I was feeling guilty for dumping all of my responsibilities on my father, whom I'm pretty sure just really wanted to mow the lawn and drink beer - completely and totally overwhelm me. Three years later, the looking back is easy. Hopefully, these tips will help you in these early days.

To survive:

1. Try to be there when your Firstborn wakes up in the morning, arms empty of the Interloper and waiting just for her/him. Let your smile be the first thing he sees and greet the day as you did before the Interloper came along - just you and him, together.

2. Let him pick out his clothes for the day and which cereal to eat for breakfast. (Go ahead and buy a box of sugar-coated crap. Do NOT allow yourself to feel badly about this. Baby teeth fall out and it's not like you're feeding him crap all day long, right? Water down his juice if this makes you feel better.)

3. I made up a silly song for mornings and we still sing it. If anything, it puts ME in the right frame of mind and at the very least, lets me have 30 seconds of "Good Mummy" ness to recall later in the day when both children are in Time-Out and I'm about to hurl myself out the window. It goes like this:

"Good morning! Good morning!
 Happy day to you!
 Good morning! Good morning!
 I love you, Magoo!"

* This song can later be altered to end with, "I love you, and YOU!" to include the Interloper, thereby neatly circumventing any guilt you may have about not including both children. *

4. 20 Minutes, Twice a Day

Set aside 20 minutes in the morning, after you've fed the Interloper and he's (hopefully) sleeping in his bouncy chair, to play with your Firstborn. You can play trucks or tea party or dress-up or line-up-the-shoes - but let your Firstborn choose and stay focused. Do NOT allow your gaze to wander about the disaster that is your kitchen or to rest longingly on the couch that's calling your name. Do NOT idly flip through the nearest issue of "Today's Parent" magazine when it's not your turn. Play! Engage. Be.

In the afternoon, before the witching hour leading up to dinner and before the fresh new hell known as "bed time", do it all again. 20 minutes. If you can manage a walk to the park, do it.

 Let your Firstborn stop and inspect every blade of grass along the way. Let him balance on the cupholder of the stroller if he wants to and ignore the clucking/shaking heads from your neighbours as you trundle by. Push him on the swing for 10 more minutes after you've given the 5-minute warning. If you need to nurse the Interloper during this time, then do so, but if some other Mummy offers to burp or hold him afterward, let her. Bring snacks - the good ones. Let him drink from your bottle, shriek as loudly as he wants and climb the playground equipment without his shoes on.

All in, these 40 minutes will sustain you later as you mentally beat yourself up, so enjoy them!

Because Mama?

This too shall pass. This too, shall pass. All too soon, this too shall pass.


  1. again, you have a real way with words and I so enjoy reading your entries. You hit the nail on the head hear; so many moms feel this way after the second baby come along. I remember feeling that way once upon a time.

  2. So now that I have two free hands...

    I think the mommy guilt took me by surprise. I never had a question in my mind that I'd love the 2nd monster as much as my first. My mother swore to me that I'd think I couldn't possibly have enough for the 2nd one, but that was never an issue for me, regardless of how many ppl told me it would be.

    But the guilt of not having the time for #1 - that's hard. Really hard. Harder still that I don't yet have the ability to play with her due to c-section incision healing issues, and it's been 3 weeks already, 4-5 if you count the time I had to spend in the hospital prior o giving birth. So yeah, it's been hard, and boy oh boy has she been acting out because of it - which makes it even harder.

    I think the hardest thing for me is what you mentioned about being the first thing she sees when she wakes up - I haven't even slept upstairs n bed yet since getting home because of my complications. I've been sleeping on the couch, sitting up, since coming home. It used to be that I was the one layng down with The Peach when she went to bed, the one getting up in the middle of the night when all she wanted was a reassuring snuggle, and the first one to jump up and grab her out of her crib when she woke in the morning. We would also snuggle for a good 30 mins every morning before heading downstairs to start our day... Those are the times I miss terribly. I feel like I've been held prisoner from my life but haven't done anything to deserve the punishment. I feel soooo badly for my aching-hearted Peach and there really isn't anything I can do to fix her heart right now. *sigh*... there should be a manual for this kinda stuff, no? Good thing we have you around for the glimmer of hope, Belly <3

  3. Great belly- and i'd like to add my guilt appeasing mantra

    baby number one gets your time and baby number two gets your experience!